After a Citgo refinery in Corpus Christi left two giant oil tanks uncovered, exposing some 800 residents to cancer-causing air pollutants like benzene, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended that the company pay the maximum $2 billion in fines, including $30 million for relocation, medical expenses, and restitution for the victims. In February, seven years after the conviction, a federal judge fined Citgo $2 million dollars – a comparative slap on the wrist. But what about the victims of Citgo’s carelessness? What did they receive in restitution? As decided by the judge earlier this month, the residents of Corpus Christi received $0. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
Yes, the people received nary a cent despite the fact that Citgo reaped at least $1 billion from the storage tanks – and the fact that the residents were eligible for financial renewal under the Crime Victims Rights Act, the first such designation for victims of air pollution, according to grist.org. And according to The Daily Beast, race and class played a part in this injustice – while the legal rights of powerless people are violated, the legal system favors the elite investors and big oil.
This Citgo case hits close to home – for me and many, many others. Grist reports that there are millions more people around America who live with the same health risks from facilities handling hazardous elements like benzene and worse. And while I don’t know of such a situation in my hometown, Pittsburgh, I do know I am living in what has become a fracking battleground. What’s being done to protect the health of Pennsylvania residents?
After more than five years and about 6,000 wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale boom, a health registry to collect information near fracking operations in Pennsylvania is urgent, according to public-health experts. In a publicsource.org article, Natasha Khan reported last month that the creation of a health registry — to show trends of illness, collect data, and potentially answer the question of whether fracking is safe – was recommended by the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission three years ago. Yet PA Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican who appointed the commission, has made no move to create a registry and funds for it were stripped from Act 13, a bill that rewrote the state’s oil and gas law. (Corbett also ruthlessly slashed education funding in the state soon after he was elected – just another example of how misplaced this guy’s values are.)
Khan reported Aimee Tysarczyk, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said in an email that the agency is still “exploring” creating a registry, but is trying to answer the question of where the money would come from. Well, shoot. Maybe if we taxed those contaminating our water and land, perhaps we could afford a way to track the effects fracking is having on our health? Nahhhhh.
Incidentally, health departments in both New York and Maryland, which also lie atop the Marcellus Shale, are working on health studies. Those studies are funded by respective state governments and their governors have refused to allow fracking until the studies are complete. The good news is that Corbett’s term is up and his re-election is looking highly unlikely. Maybe Pennsylvanians will find an ally yet.
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